Church's retro-style Valentine's prom to fund African mission

Tanzanian villagers use devices called hippo rollers to transport water.

One local church, raising funds to benefit an African community, is inviting the public to lace up their dancing shoes and turn back the clock this Valentine’s weekend.

Knighstville United Methodist Church is hosting its first-ever Back-to-the-Prom event on Saturday. The dinner-dance occasion will feature a three-course steak dinner, live DJ and silent auction. Childcare will also be provided at $5 per child.

The fundraiser is benefiting the construction of the first permanent church in Nyamongo, Tanzania.

The cost to purchase the land and erect a simple structure is just $600, according to Knightsville UMC Pastor Robert Harper.

“It’s not going to be the type of church we see here with pews and all that,” he said. “It provides for them a place to come together to worship and meet.”

Located in the country’s northern region, the village is an area lacking vital resources and healthcare services.

“Water is huge,” Harper said.

The ministry has already supplied the African country with multiple devices called hippo rollers, used to transport essential commodity.

Through a partnership with nonprofit Beautiful Feet Ministries of Tanzania, the Summerville-area church is hoping to fill certain need gaps. It was through Harper that Knightsville UMC became connected with the overseas mission.

Harper said it was years ago and prior to his appointment at the local church that he and his wife attended church with John and Mary Long—founders of Beautiful Feet—in Conway, South Carolina. At the time, neither couple worked in ministry like they do now. Harper said it was only three years ago he felt God’s calling to leave his professional golfing career to take on a full-time pastoral role.

The Longs founded their faith-filled organization in 2015, and for the last several years have been working alongside the African Inland Church of Tanzania (AICT) to grow nearly 20 churches across hard-to-reach villages in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria region.

In addition to church access, Beautiful Feet is funding the construction of Nyamongo’s first-ever community center, complete with rooms for counseling, HIV-testing and other services, since many of the area’s residents are infected with the disease. Beautiful Feet is also providing villagers exposure to the Gospel through free Bibles and “story blankets,” illustrating Bible stories.

Mission groups also hand out SD cards containing Scripture translated into the Swahili and Sukuma languages, according to the organization’s website, bethefeet.org. And for hard-to-reach villages, ACIT uses solar-powered projection systems, donated by Beautiful Feet, to show the movie the “Jesus Film Project.”

In February 2020, Harper, Barth and about a dozen other church members plan to travel to Tanzania to finally meet the villagers they’ve been praying for and assisting across continents. Joining the mission is crucial to Harper because he said it's obedience to Scripture.

"It allows us to fulfill God's mission to go out into the world," he said. "Through Scripture, God commands us to go into the world, and Tanzania is part of the world that hasn't received the message of Jesus Christ."

According to Harper, his church is already serving needs at the local level, participating as a Lowcountry Food Pantry site during a three-hour time frame on Thursdays.

"Locally, we're very, very active with our food pantry. Last week we served 160 people," he said, "so we're reaching out...locally, and now we're reaching to to feed people spiritually by going to Tanzania."

In addition to sharing the Christian faith, on the trip the church team will also work to meet a number of critical needs.

“There’s no specific purpose for this team,” said Jennifer Shrestha, who’s heading the team. “We are going just to do whatever they need within that community at that time.”

Shrestha expressed she's most excited that her children will also be participating in the international experience, opening their eyes to other cultures and finding out “how they can be of service of others” and “learn from others.”

“It’s important as parents that we want our children to experience what else is in the world…as Christians, and as just human beings, what else is out there,” Shrestha said. “Summerville is not the whole world.”

A part of multiple mission trips over the years, Shrestha described the many people groups she’s met as "near and dear to my heart."

“Really, you get 1,000-percent more back than I think you ever give. You learn much more from them,” she said.

In addition to hosting fundraisers, the church is preparing for the 2020 trip in other tangible ways, including making pillowcase dresses for Tanzanian children, according to church member Diana Barth.

“Everybody is doing a little something,” she said. “I think it’s really important for us…and to just support that community there.”

So far the church has raised nearly $4,000 for Beautiful Feet, according to Harper.

The church is also seeking community donations for Saturday’s silent auction. To donate an item or to purchase event tickets, call 843-875-2117 or email secretary@knightsvilleumc.org.

Back to the Prom will take place 6:30-10:30 p.m. at 1505 Central Avenue. Cost is $20 per person.

For more details visit knightsvilleumc.org.

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